Iraq Oil Report's Daily Brief compiles the most important news and analysis about Iraq from around the web.

A tale of two cities

Maya Gebeily writes for AFP:

"There are families living in this alleyway.” The Arabic words were hand-painted in red, black, and blue on a tattered canvas, pinned up where a small side street led off a main thoroughfare in Iraq's Mosul. The alleyway looked anything but livable — bullet holes and craters from mortar rounds still scarred the walls around it nearly two years after the fighting had stopped, and sewage water gurgled down the cracked pavement. The banner, my AFP colleagues said, was hung to alert passing aid groups to needy residents eking out a living, unseen, in the battered labyrinth of west Mosul.

It was my first time back in Mosul since a brief assignment for AFP in October 2016, when the Iraqi military was waging a massive offensive to oust the Islamic State group. That fight took nine brutal, bloody months, its objective was carefully defined, materially supported, and ultimately achieved -- with meticulous coverage by global media.

What I slowly absorbed after a few days in post-IS Mosul -- and its Syrian twin city Raqa a few weeks later -- is that what comes after is infinitely more complex to chart out and to report faithfully. There is no step-by-step strategy to rebuild a city's spirit. There's no unified command-and-control center.  It's usually not even clear what victory is supposed to look like or when it can be declared. But just as we have covered every aspect of the military struggle, we should carefully and passionately provide testimony from the cities and societies painstakingly lifting themselves out of war.

Click here for the entire story

Iraqi protesters urge Baghdad to stay out of U.S.-Iran showdown

Ahmed Aboulenein writes for Reuters:

Thousands of supporters of a populist Iraqi Shi’ite Muslim cleric urged political and factional leaders on Friday to stay out of any conflict between Baghdad’s two biggest allies, Iran and the United States.

Protesters from the movement of Moqtada al-Sadr, who once led Shi’ite militiamen against U.S. forces and is also vocally critical of Iranian influence in Iraq, chanted “no to war” and “yes to Iraq” in central Baghdad and the southern city of Basra.

Iraqis worry that their country will be caught up in any escalation of U.S.-Iranian tensions, which spiked earlier this month when President Donald Trump’s administration said it had sent additional forces to the Middle East to counter alleged threats including from Iranian-backed militias in Iraq.

Click here for the entire story

The Impossible Future of Christians in the Middle East

Emma Green writes for The Atlantic:

The call came in 2014, shortly after Easter. Four years earlier, Catrin Almako’s family had applied for special visas to the United States. Catrin’s husband, Evan, had cut hair for the U.S. military during the early years of its occupation of Iraq. Now a staffer from the International Organization for Migration was on the phone. “Are you ready?” he asked. The family had been assigned a departure date just a few weeks away.

“I was so confused,” Catrin told me recently. During the years they had waited for their visas, Catrin and Evan had debated whether they actually wanted to leave Iraq. Both of them had grown up in Karamles, a small town in the historic heart of Iraqi Christianity, the Nineveh Plain. Evan owned a barbershop near a church. Catrin loved her kitchen, where she spent her days making pastries filled with nuts and dates. Their families lived there: her five siblings and aging parents, his two brothers.

The Almakos had watched neighbors and friends wrestle with the same question: stay, or go? Now more and more Christians in the region were deciding to leave. The graph of the religion’s decline in the Middle East has in recent years transformed from a steady downward slope into a cliff. The numbers in Iraq are especially stark: Before the American invasion, as many as 1.4 million Christians lived in the country. Today, fewer than 250,000 remain—an 80 percent drop in less than two decades.

Click here for the entire story

UN team unearths 12 mass graves in Iraq probe of IS crimes

AFP reports:

A UN team investigating the massacre of Iraq's Yazidi minority and other atrocities has excavated 12 mass graves and is collecting witness accounts that could be used in Iraqi and other national courts, according to a UN report seen by AFP on Monday.

The Security Council agreed in 2017 to establish the UN probe to ensure the Islamic State group faces justice for war crimes in Iraq and Syria -- a cause championed by Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad and international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney.

In the report sent to the council, the head of the team, British lawyer Karim Asad Ahmad Khan, said efforts were focused on three initial investigations: the 2014 massacre of Yazidis, crimes committed in Mosul from 2014 to 2016, and the mass killing of Iraqi military recruits in the Tikrit area in June 2014.

Click here for the entire story

As U.S.-Iran tension simmers, rocket fired near Iraq’s U.S. Embassy

Ahmed Rasheed and Ahmed Aboulenein report for Reuters:

A rocket was fired into the Iraqi capital Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, which houses government buildings and diplomatic missions, on Sunday night, falling near the U.S. Embassy but causing no casualties, the Iraqi military said.

The attack came two weeks after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Iraqi leaders during a surprise visit to Baghdad that if they failed to keep in check Iran-backed militias, which are expanding their power in Iraq and now form part of its security apparatus, the United States would respond with force.

Click here for the entire story

Iraq accuses ISIS of setting fire to hundreds of acres of farmland

Mina Aldroubi reports for The National:

Iraq’s Ministry of Commerce accused ISIS on Sunday of destroying hundreds of agricultural fields across the country, raising fears that the extremist group is stepping up activity.

The group allegedly set fire to 500 acres of wheat and barley farms in the eastern province of Diyala on Saturday and destroyed further further fields in the northern province of Nineveh.

Local media reported that the burning of fields was part of an extortion racket in which ISIS members demanded money from farmers.

Click here for the entire story

Once again, Iraq caught up in tensions between US and Iran

Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Bassem Mroue report for AP:

When U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sat down with Iraqi officials in Baghdad last week as tensions mounted between America and Iran, he delivered a nuanced message: If you’re not going to stand with us, stand aside.

The message, relayed to The Associated Press by two Iraqi government officials, underscores Iraq’s delicate position: Its government is allied with both sides of an increasingly contentious confrontation.

As tensions escalate, there are concerns that Baghdad could once again get caught in the middle, just as it is on the path to recovery. The country hosts more than 5,000 U.S. troops, and is home to powerful Iranian-backed militias, some of whom want those U.S. forces to leave.

Click here for the entire story

Iraq, Fearing Another U.S. War, Warns Militias Against Provocation

Alissa J. Rubin writes for The New York Times:

In the Trump administration’s recent bellicose talk about Iran, Iraqis hear eerie echoes of the months just before the American invasion of Iraq.

Iraqi officials, wary of another war on their land, say they have warned armed groups tied to Iran to refrain from taking any action that could provoke American retaliation.

“The last two days there have been continuous meetings with all the groups to convey the Iraqi government’s message that if anyone does something, it is their responsibility, not Iraq’s,” said Sayed al-Jayashi, a senior member of Iraq’s National Security Council.

Click here for the entire story

Born under IS, sick Iraqi children left undocumented, untreated

Maya Gebeily writes for AFP:

No documents? No doctor. Without state-issued IDs, Iraqi mothers struggle to have children born under the now-defeated Islamic State group treated for conditions ranging from asthma to epilepsy.

"It's unjust," said Salima, a 36-year-old mother of four living in the Laylan 2 displacement camp in northern Iraq.

Three of her children were born under IS rule and cannot go to school or leave the camp because they lack state-issued identity papers -- including Abdulkarim, who was struggling to nap in her lap on a muggy afternoon.

Click here for the entire story

US State Department orders all non-essential government personnel to leave Iraq

The National reports:

The US State Department ordered all "non-emergency US government employees" to leave Iraq, the US mission there said on Wednesday.

The embassy said it could provide only limited emergency services to US citizens. Normal visa services at US offices in Baghdad and Erbil would be suspended.

US Central Command said on Tuesday that there is an increased risk to American forces and allies from Iranian-backed militias in the region. This ran counter to an assessment by a senior British general in the US-led mission to defeat ISIS who suggested there was no increased threat from Iranian proxies.

Click here for the entire story